A Critique of Our Justice System | ‘Court’ Movie Review

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Jaan, Jaan, Jaan…dushmanala jaan re… Kathin aala kaad… Maati se phute naal..

(Know your enemy…tough times are here…we’re uprooted from our soil….this era of blindness has gouged our eyes)

A song from Court

Source: Wikipedia


‘Court’ a Marathi movie, has everything to offer to its viewers. Directed by Chaitanya Tamhane, a young Indian filmmaker from Mumbai, the film is based on the criminal charges against a Marathi folk singer Narayan Kamble (Vira Sathidar). Kamble must be in his seventies. His appearance is simple, and demeanor energetic and straightforward. He writes and performs poems at public gatherings, on streets and at protest sites. He gives private tuitions to school-going children to earn his bread and butter.

‘Court’ revolves around the courtroom hearings of his case in the session’s court. The movie also portrays the lives of the lawyers in the case – Vinay Vora, the counsel for the accused; Nutan, the public prosecutor; and, the Judge, Sadavarte.

The movie is beautifully woven with characters and scenes which are portrayed accurately. Every scene in the picture tells a complete story – the enigma of court lives, the helplessness of the accused who is framed under vexatious and malicious charges, the prejudice of the investigating officer who believes other people without further investigation and the cost which the defence lawyer has to pay for defending the marginalised.

The genius of ‘Court’ lies in its details, packed with the fierce yet simple arguments of the lawyers, the wit and humour of the judge and the nervousness of the witnesses in the witness box.

 Narayan Kamble and the Truth of The Indian Criminal Justice System

Narayan Kamble was performing at the ‘Wadgaon Massacre Protest Cultural Meet’, where he sings the songs of resistance which he wrote. His songs depict the class struggles, the pain and sufferings of the marginalised and the agony of the poor. They are about mass awakenings and questioning the oppressive governments.

Kamble is arrested on the charges of abetment to suicide of Vasudev Pawar, a young manual scavenger who lived in the Sitla Devi slum area. According to the police, Narayan Kamble once performed in the vicinity, and his songs led to Vasudev’s suicide.

As the trial paces up, the charges against Kamble emerges as weak, and he is granted conditional bail with an exorbitant bail bond. A few days later, Kamble is arrested again on fabricated charges under section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (sedition) and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967.

The story of Kamble is the story of the Indian criminal justice system, its approach towards the justice delivery system, the systemic prejudices of the public prosecutors and the ill-treatment of the accused by the judicial system. Millions of Indians are put behind bars on false and fabricated charges. Millions await justice, and millions of prisoners are behind bars with no one to represent them in the court. In many instances, the bail amount is exorbitantly high, and the accused remains behind bars with no means to pay the bail bond.

Systemic Prejudices of the Public Prosecutor

The systemic prejudices of the state counsel are commonly evident in cases where the accused is charged with offences against the state; instead of arguing on the merit of the case, personal comments are made against the accused with the mala fide intent to tarnish their image before the judge. Comments like extremist, terrorists, Maoists etc. negate the legal principle that a person is assumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty. In criminal cases, the state is the party and it is represented through public prosecutors. These prosecutors are the officers of the court and they should assist the court in the administration of justice. Public prosecutors in our country lack expertise in the subject. There is a need to train them better and sensitise them about the issues and concerns of the marginalised and oppressed groups.

Kamble is arrested on fabricated charges under section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (sedition) and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967. Source: IrishTimes

Is the Indian Criminal Justice System Accessible to Marginalised Groups?

The justice system affects our day to day lives both directly and indirectly. All of us may come across some legal hurdles in our lives, and might need to visit courts to settle our disputes.

Sadly, even after seven decades of our independence, the Indian criminal justice system failed to make itself accessible to the marginalised population. Police is an integral part of the justice wheel, and by far, it remains the most inaccessible institution in the country. The doors of justice for the marginalised community are closed. Undertrials languish behind bars for a term longer than the prescribed sentences for the offences they are charged.

The courtroom proceedings are not at all friendly to the marginalised groups.

The Indian criminal justice system further aggravates their plight. Court proceedings are marked by the heavy backlog of cases and pendency, which acts as a major hindrance in the path of access to justice. The British colonial regime in India established modern Indian courts. It was meant to serve the ruling class, but not much has been done after the independence to make the process seamless and unhindered for the marginalised groups.

Sessions Judge Sadavarte in the movie ‘Court’ is an exceptional judge. He efficiently takes up the matter which is brought to his cognizance. He seems rational and just in his approach when he scolds Pradeep Shelke, the investigating officer, when he fails to produce witnesses before the court.

When the Brilliance of Cinema Meets the Indian Justice System

The justice wheel is comprised of the police, the state (prosecution and investigating agencies) and the courts. Chaitanya Tamahane’s debut film ‘Court’ shows all the spikes of the justice wheel in great detail.

It also shows the rampant ill practices in the police department. Pradeep Shelke, the investigating officer, produces the same witness in all four cases he had been investigating in the past two years; such witnesses are known as ‘stock witness’.

The film is aesthetically pleasing and brilliant in its approach, as it shows the personal lives of both the lawyers and the Judge. Vinay Vora, defence counsel for the accused Narayan Kamble, is from a well-off family and specialises in criminal justice and Human Rights.  As a young lawyer, his commitment is motivational.

Nutan, the public prosecutor, has a busy home life, too; when she returns from work, she picks up her child from school, cooks meals for the family and occasionally goes to the theatre with her family. As the summer holidays begin, Judge Sadavarte sets himself for a vacation with his joint family.

Each of these scenes in the movie makes it more realistic in its approach. Courtroom discussion gets heated at times when the defence lawyer and state counsel are at loggerheads.

To Sum Up

The criminal justice system in India has witnessed many ups and downs. Its interface with the marginalised groups is dismal and unsatisfactory. It is an uphill and long-drawn battle to make the situation better. To make the interface better, robust training must be imparted to lawyers, including public prosecutors, police officers, and other investigative agencies. Vigorous attempts must be made to lessen the obstacles and hindrances which hamper the administration of justice.

Public safety laws that allow preventive detention and laws like UAPA negates the whole idea of criminal jurisprudence. Such laws put the onus to prove the innocence on the accused person, which makes it impossible to prove themselves innocent. Without the provision for bail, the accused languishes in jail for years while awaiting justice.

All this gets summed up in the movie beautifully, which offers a searing critique of our legal system, and makes us look both outward and inward at the same time – something which only a few artworks hold the power to do.

Watch the film.

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